January 27, 2009
When Randy Travis invited Carrie Underwood into the Grand Ole Opry last spring, the sprightly young maiden had fully arrived as the new torchbearer for the house of twang. Her reign as the genre’s princess arose from her use of God (“Jesus, Take the Wheel”), glory notes (“All-American Girl”) and gratuitous violence (“Before He Cheats”) to advance her image as a blond, beautiful and apple pie-lovin’ songstress, though one with a hint of a sinnin’ streak.
That girl-next-door goodness is a gold mine, one that, thanks to Underwood, is now the niche in Nashville. Carbon copy cuties such as Julianne Hough, Kristy Lee Cook and Whitney Duncan all strut around Music Row with their eyes on stardom. Success awaits some, others will never live out Underwood’s hand-me-down dreams.
The Okie beauty queen has been questioned for her own cookie-cutter deeds. American Idol’s notorious judge and jury, Simon Cowell, once admitted of Underwood, ”I know nothing more about her now than I did when I met her.” That poker-face personality, in real life and on record, is an open invitation to wild interpretation. Harsh critics claim she’s a first-class fembot serving a fat-free set of songs. Hearty fans applaud her seemingly wholesome values and built-to-blow vocal power.
The long-simmering question—Who is Carrie Underwood?—is at the crux of any argument about the value of her music. In absolute top form, Underwood is a fine interpretive singer, albeit one without the gravitas that elevates merely good country singers to greatness. Only a defining artistic stand from the format’s female leader will conjure up that magic.
In a tentative step towards revelation, Underwood has covered Travis’ 1988 No.1 single, “I Told You So.” Usually the rafters of heaven shake with her every alleluia, but now, she subtly graces “I Told You So” with a mature, thoughtful performance. Scaling back her diva-fied wailing, she blesses the poor-me power ballad with an understated elegance. A mildly traditional tune, with steel flourishes wrapped around a moody melody, “I Told You So” strays from the pop-country pap that’s thrilled throngs of suburbanites. Hall of Famer Vince Gill, steps in for a sweetly satisfying harmony vocal that’s gorgeous in its sadness. An Opry-worthy performance from all involved.
Written by Randy Travis
Listen: “I Told You So”